Members to discuss goals and plans
The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board is planning to camp out for seven hours Saturday in a conference room in a downtown office building to hash out goals and plans for the next year.
This is only the second retreat this School Board has held since taking office in January 2011, and that first retreat occurred 32 months ago. It’s also the first retreat the board has held since Bernard Taylor replaced John Dilworth as superintendent in June 2012.
“I’m hoping that we can all focus on maybe three to five main goals for the coming year,” said board member Evelyn Ware-Jackson, who has been organizing the retreat.
The retreat is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. and end at 4 p.m. It’s occurring in Suite 1100 of the City Plaza II in a conference room of the law firm Phelps Dunbar.
Ware-Jackson said the board was reluctant to spend money and time traveling out of town for a retreat. She said the conference center, the food, and the services of the moderator, Ron Markham, are all being donated.
“At least we’ll be away from EBR property, so we’re not looking on our usual surroundings,” she said. “Maybe we can focus on the future, board relations and our public image.”
The morning portion will center around how Taylor plans to implement a wide-ranging strategic plan, years in the making, that the board approved in August. The plan calls for the school system to vault from 51st to a top 10 school district academically by 2020.
The afternoon portion will review different ways the board operates as well as a handful of issues individual board members want discussed, including student discipline and giving minority- and women-owned businesses more opportunities to do business with the school system.
Markham, the moderator, is the founder of Corporate Training & Development, based in Geismar, and has served as a trainer and a coach for a wide range of clients, including Wal-Mart, Goldman Sachs and the U.S. Postal Service. He also has a personal prison ministry at Orleans Parish Prison.
Since taking over as superintendent, Taylor has moved quickly, restructuring several low-performing schools, launching two new magnet schools, revamping alternative schools, and replacing dozens of school administrators.
More recently, though, his relationship with many board members has progressively soured. Since May, he’s lost or changed course on high profile initiatives he’s pursued involving health insurance for retirees, on how to best train for new educational standards in Louisiana, and changes to student disciplinary personnel.
Taylor, however, sees the strategic plan as an opportunity to turn a corner and refocus the school system on improving student achievement. In a Sept. 16 speech to the Baton Rouge Press Club, Taylor said he wants the board to start first by focusing on the aspects of the plan that deal with expanding prekindergarten, improving air conditioning and heating systems in schools, expanding magnet programs, and implementing the new and increasingly controversial Common Core educational standards in effect in 45 states, including Louisiana.
Before Taylor arrived, the board was often splitting six-to-five on contentious issues, divided usually between newly elected members and incumbents who survived re-election in fall 2010. Acrimony reached its peak during the lengthy search that led to Taylor’s hiring.
On Saturday’s retreat agenda are several items about improving the public image of the school system and the board.